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What Would You Give?

NewannaAnna Burkhead -- Donating your long hair for cancer patient wigs? Easy.

Donating blood? Easy.

Donating platelets? Easy, I hear, though it takes a little time.

Donating bone marrow for a stranger? Do-able, if you have guts. And Xanax.

Would you donate a kidney?

Recently I met a non-medical person who, during our conversation, told me that he was donating a kidney in the next month. The surgery was scheduled, his plane flight was booked. “Is it your sister? Dad? Cousin? Childhood friend?” I asked. “No,” came the answer. This person’s kidney was going to be transplanted into a total stranger.

“You know you only have two, right?” Of course he did. “You know it’s a big surgery, right?” Of course he did. This person appeared to know all the gory details of a nephrectomy, short of seeing it firsthand, as I have. The only flaw that I could find in his plan was that he was planning on taking only one week off of work, and the surgery was happening in Texas.

“What if you have kids someday, and one of them needs your kidney?” He had an answer for that too, albeit an optimistic one. He said that if the world progresses in the way he hopes, some stranger will generously donate his kidney to the child, as he was currently in the process of doing. “That’s a big risk,” I thought to myself.

I consider myself to be a generous person. Without hesitation I would donate regenerable body parts such as hair, blood, platelets, and bone marrow. However, when it comes to donating an organ like a kidney, only family and close friends need apply, and even some of y'all might not be eligible.

That statement may sound selfish to some people out there, as I’m sure it did to this man I had the conversation with. But if I’m going to give up an organ of which I have only two, I’m going to be pretty strict with my criteria. I want to know that my donation will be taken care of. I want to know that medications will be taken as prescribed. I want to know that doctor’s appointments will be attended as scheduled.

My interaction with this person made me feel a bit selfish for not wanting to open my own Gerota’s fascia, divide my renal vessels, and hand over one of my two precious urine-makers. But people, it’s a kidney!! What would you give?

September 29, 2008 in Anna Burkhead | Permalink


Well, you have a point there Anna. I totaly agree with you, there is a great risk for someone that would do something like that... I am having a second thought for giving my organs even to my clossest family and friends...:D

Posted by: Andreea | Sep 30, 2008 4:44:57 AM

It's hard to donote an organ that's irreplacable. yes we have two kidneys but then again we cant predict the future of our own health or misfortunes (accidents etc). I for one like both of my kidneys and dont intend on sharing. Blood, platelets and marrow, sure take all you need.

Posted by: Emily | Oct 1, 2008 12:20:49 PM

He is probably getting paid. Though I am sure he wouldn't admit that.

Posted by: Sally Williams | Oct 2, 2008 1:40:07 PM

i remember having this similar debate during our medical ethics class in med school... the case was of this patient who needs the transplant and a sibling is the only compatible one... but the sibling doesn't want to donate... in the end, we agreed that if the sibling does donate his part then good... he is generous and really has the heart to make the sacrifice... but if he doesn't then he shouldn't be forced to feel like morally obligated to make the sacrifice ... so in ur patients case... it is his body... so long as it's legal... and knows all the consequences of his actions... then so be it...

Posted by: ninette_umpa | Oct 4, 2008 6:37:17 AM

Years ago I wanted to donate a kidney to help save someone's (a stranger) life -- as it turned out we were uncompatable. And that turned out to be a GREAT thing because I ended up losing 1 kidney cancer.

Posted by: joanbug | Oct 7, 2008 3:18:11 PM

No way . i would never donate a kidney .

Posted by: John Bott | Oct 7, 2008 4:09:38 PM

I would donate a kidney.

Posted by: Candi | Oct 7, 2008 6:13:37 PM

So, Candi, why are you just talking in hypotheticals? If you "would", why don't you just do it? Myself, I have a husband with diabetes from a young age, and everyday I'm aware of keeping myself healthy, just in case he might need one of my kidneys, or part of my liver. So, as part of one of those exchange programs, where I'd donate to a stranger, which would place my husband higher on the list of recipients, I'd do it without hesitation. But I can't say that otherwise. It is a major surgery with huge implications for the future. I wish everyone wasn't as cynical as Sally, I'm sure there are incredible unselfish people who'd do it just to save a life, unfortunately I'm not one of them. Mostly because I feel I have to keep mine "just in case". With that said, if someone's willing to say they "would", than why not just do it? What is stopping you from actually doing it, if you're saying you're ready to do it right now? Will you put your money where your mouth is? I'd love to learn about your experience.

Posted by: Angela | Oct 7, 2008 6:32:38 PM

Before I began med school I thought about donating a kidney and part of my liver (live liver transplants done at the Cleveland Clinic I believe) to a stranger. Then I realized I might not always have the best urinary tract and want a back up for the future. I still want to donate part of my liver to a child though. I'll wait until I finish med school 1st.

Posted by: Priscilla | Oct 7, 2008 8:26:51 PM

That's a tough one... I would donate my kidney to a needing family member in a heartbeat. But it's a hot commodity (unlike blood, platelets, etc...) because you only have one to spare! I commend anyone willing to donate such a valuable organ to a total stranger, but I'm not up to the task (call me stingy!!!)

Posted by: BP | Oct 8, 2008 8:03:11 AM

When I was 15 my brother (17)was diagnosed with glomural nephritis. My mom and dad were quickly tested to become donors and they would not even look at me as I had not yet started my family. Here we are 15 years later and he is need of a second transplant. Without hesitation I have decided to donate 1 of my 2 kidneys. Many people have asked me if I should hold onto it for my own children (which I have 2) but I explain that we have a large family support and anyone of them would be happy to do it for them. At this point it is almost life or death with my brother and I want to give him the best fighting chance I can to live a full life.

Posted by: Angela | Oct 8, 2008 9:19:18 AM

If I would know that the success rate of a particular procedure is almost 100% I would be MORE willing to donate an organ. But how much is the actual success rate of a Kidney Transplant?? Donating to a family member, one would not think more than twice. But if I donated my precious organ to a stranger, of which I have only two, and it were to be a waste , i would think many times before !!

Posted by: leenas | Oct 8, 2008 10:26:42 AM

Yes to close family, no to a stranger. That patient is an amazing person and I'm amused by the fact that here are people in the medical proffession who seem to have the attitude no way. I'm one of them...Blood yes, but anything that potentially puts me at risk, no unless its family!

Posted by: Gem | Oct 9, 2008 5:35:08 AM

To me, it is simultaneously admirable and somewhat incomprehensible to be donating an organ to a complete stranger. Everybody is selfish, but it depends on how selfish they are. It is admirable since the man obviously has a very firm belief in the goodness of mankind which I doubt a lot from time to time. What would happen, suppose, one day one of his family members needed his kidney (which he already gave away) and did not receive a donation from some complete stranger like he did? Wouldn't he realize only then that his pure-hearted opinion of humanity is not quite what he imagined? That would be rather devastating.

I don't know about anyone else, but I don't think I could place my faith solely on the probability that 'goodness' is still common enough for a person in need of a kidney to get one from someone they've never even met.

Posted by: workaholic888 | Oct 9, 2008 9:27:36 AM

Hmmnn... Sounds interesting! Is he somewhere in the chain of "Pay it forward". I wonder!!

Posted by: Manasa Musunuri | Oct 9, 2008 3:25:33 PM

well, i would give it to one of my family members only

Posted by: olla | Oct 11, 2008 1:29:18 AM

Interesting..I see only minimal difference between close family and complete strangers..but maybe because I'm adopted.
Tough choice...I'm holding on to my kidneys...for now.

Posted by: tom | Oct 12, 2008 3:19:44 PM

I like the comment "Why you are speaking in hypotheticals?" Sounds like you have lots of fear in your mind..."in case something happens to me or my family." I had the understanding that a nephrectomy was minimally invasive (less clotting and fibroblast repair your body has to do and hopefully less infection (no gram negative please!), therefore less time in the hospital). Review the HLA compatibility scheme. A parent is only 50% compatible, therefore not the best donor. An identical twin is the best. An ex boyfriend/girlfriend would be a better donor depending on compatibility. Review the definitions of autograph, allograph, xenograph, etc. Remember which organs are immune priviledged (thymus, testes, etc), hence a cure for DiGeorge Sx. I get the feeling you are afraid of Texas when you say "the surgery was happening in Texas" Texas is a nice place with the 4th and 6th largest cities in the nation populationwise. Reading your stories suggests that you may have an interest in surgery or the specialties in it such as ENT, urology, optha, OB-GYN. You seem like a potentially promising OB-GYN (lots of opportunities in Texas,too!).

Posted by: etn | Oct 13, 2008 1:22:05 PM

What about donating your body to a med school anatomy program?

Posted by: Julia | Oct 13, 2008 1:26:49 PM

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